How to Take Reference Photos for Fine Art: Tips from a Professional Artist

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Article Highlights

When you’re commissioning a piece of fine art, the quality of the reference photos you provide will have a huge impact on the final piece. The artist will use these photos as a source of inspiration, so it’s important to make sure they are accurate. In this article, we’ll discuss how to take reference photos for your fine art projects and how to find them elsewhere if needed.

How can you take great photos using your own camera?

Use the most professional camera you have.

Most cell phone cameras do not provide adequate cameras since they often lack the features that are important for photography, such as high resolution, manual controls, optical zoom, and large lenses and sensors that capture plenty of light while avoiding distortion.

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Professional camera with numerous settings

If you already have a dedicated camera, that’s great! Although some are definitely higher-quality than others, pretty much any standalone camera produced within the past few years will be adequate.

If you’re only familiar with cell phone photography but are willing to branch out, we recommend speaking to someone at B&H Photo or another specialty shop, where you can talk to an expert in this niche who can help you find a camera that remains within your budget and meets your needs.

Prepare the background.

Remove any distracting elements in the background of your photo(s) that will take away from the subject of your artwork.

Keep your camera steady.

Use a tripod if you have one or are willing to purchase one. This will help to keep the camera steady and minimize camera shake.

Don’t use a flash.

The light from the flash can distort colors and shadows, making it difficult to capture an accurate representation of the scene.

It’s all about the details.

Don’t rely on auto-focus. Manual focus will give you more control over what is in focus and what is not. Always pay attention to your camera’s viewport (or, if you’re using a phone, its preview screen) as you adjust the focus and frame your photo!

Preserve each image’s quality.

Ensure that each image’s resolution (detail) has not been lost over time due to excessive manual resizing or compression. It should ideally be imported directly from your camera, rather than — for example — social media websites, which automatically reduce most file sizes of images to keep their sites running quickly.

Provide several options when considering how to take reference photos.

Taking various shots of any features that you want the artist to include in the final piece can help them better interpret what is being shown and select a photo that works best.

Printed photographs and other agency work
Maybe print them out to see how they look in real life.

If you’re wondering how to take reference photos of a portrait, for instance, be sure to get several different angles and expressions, possibly close-up or far-away. If you’re asking for a landscape painting, make sure to capture the scene from multiple vantage points. The more photos you can provide, the better!

Don’t want to take your own reference photos? Find stock photos.

Although personally-taken photos will typically be your best option, there are some great stock photo sites out there that can be a valuable resource for artists and those requesting artwork from them — as long as you use them responsibly.

Be aware that the following is a general guide and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult an attorney specializing in intellectual property protection if you have any questions about using copyrighted material in your artwork.

When it comes to stock images, there are two main options: paid and free. Paid stock images generally offer higher-quality images, while free stock images can be more limited in terms of what you can do with them. In this blog post, we will take a look at the pros and cons of each option and help you decide which one is right for your business.

Paid Stock Photos

Paid stock images come with a number of benefits. First, they are generally of a better quality than free stock images. This is because they are taken by professional photographers and often go through an editing process before being made available to buyers. Their quality combined with an abundant range of photos to choose from can make finding the right reference photo simple and easy.

Additionally, paid stock images usually come with a license that allows you to easily use the image in multiple ways, such as on your website, in your marketing materials, or even in printed publications.

Remember that when you’re paying for stock photos, you’re showing support for professional photographers and giving them the resources they need to continue their creative work!

While paid stock images offer valuable benefits, they also have some drawbacks. The biggest downside is the cost; paid stock images can be expensive, especially if you need to purchase multiple licenses for different uses.

Free Stock Photos

Free stock images, on the other hand, offer a number of advantages. The most obvious benefit, of course, is that they are free! This can save you a lot of money, especially if you need to use multiple images. However, you’ll find that the selection of free stock images can be more limited than that of paid sites, and it tends to be of lesser quality.

You will also face the restrictions of copyright laws and licenses. Depending on how transformative (different from the original) you expect your commissioned art based on a free photo to be, you have to read the fine print for each and every photo you use. Some photographs come with no restrictions, some are only for non-commercial use, and plenty require attribution (credit) to the photographer whenever you use an image.

To comply with another legal requirement, you’ll need a signed release from any model(s) included in your photo. Model releases are guaranteed on paid stock sites but often not on free ones.

If you’re still willing to obtain reference photos from stock sites, some paid options include Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Envato Elements. For free alternatives, we recommend checking out Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay.

So, which option for stock photos is right for you?

Ultimately, it depends on your needs and budget. If you need excellent images and are willing to pay for them, they may be the best option. However, if you’re on a tight budget, free stock images will likely be a better choice. Whichever route you choose, make sure to do your research to find reputable sources for stock assets.

In summary…

There you have it! These tips covering how to take reference photos and license stock photos should help you find better sources of inspiration for your fine art projects. With quality photos, your resulting art will be just as amazing as you’ve imagined.

If you’re looking for more advice on creating, commissioning, and appreciating fine art, check out our other blog posts and contact Lauren for even more details.

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